Sunday, May 29, 2011

Do It Yourself Mystery - Started by Morgan Mandel - Finished by?

We've done this before, but called it a Progressive Mystery, as in Progressive Dinners. This time I'm calling it a Do It Yourself Mystery, since a few people thought we were being political, though we were collaborating on putting together a mystery.

I'll start it off. It's up to everyone out there to move the mystery along. We have a week for it to reach some kind of conclusion, crazy or not. It's up to you, our commenters, where the story will land.

Please extend the story in the comment section.

Here's the beginning:

Wendy hated going down to the basement to do the clothes, but unfortunately that's where her washer and dryer were. 

The worst time was at night, when every creak in the house sounded like footsteps.

Why had she forgotten to take out the clothes earlier? She reached into the dryer and pulled out a towel.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Writing Advice for Fledgling Auhors

Marilyn Meredith is taking part in the 13-writer Mystery We Write Book Tour. She's published more than thirty books, including her latest Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel, Angel Lost, and the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the Invisible Path. written as F. M. Meredith. The following is her advice for fledgling writers:

Begin by reading the kind of books that you want to write. Pay attention to how the books begin, how the characters are introduced, how the suspense rises, the dialogue and what makes you like the book.

Attend writers’ conferences and read books on writing. Many people have the mistaken idea that just because they know how to “write” that they can sit down in front of a computer and write a book without learning how. There are many rules about writing a book—yes, some can be broken, but not until you know what they are.

If possible, join a writing group. It’s helpful if the members are writing in the same genre as you, but not absolutely necessary. What you mainly need are people who know about writing and will give you constructive feedback on what you’re written. Listen to what they have to say. You don’t have to take all their advice, but think about it. Frankly, I learned the most about writing from the members of my critique group—the same one I still belong to after 30 years. Develop believable characters. Keep notes about them so they don’t suddenly change eye color or the spelling of their names. Speaking of character names be careful to pick names that don’t rhyme with the other character names, or start with the same letter, or all have the same number of syllables.

Write regularly. If you can, write every day even if it’s only for a short while. The more you write, the better you’ll write.

When you think you’ve finished your novel, it’s time to start the rewriting process. Print it out and go over each page diligently. Check that you’ve been consistent through out. Make sure the dialogue sounds natural but either moves the plot along or reveals character. Are the characters three dimensional?

Don’t rely on the spell and grammar checker. You’ll need to check on the printed page. Many common words have different spellings and meanings. And if you’ve used fragments in dialogue because that’s how a character speaks, you don’t want to make the changes suggested.

When you think you’re done, the manuscript is polished, have someone take a look at it who is a professional. You never want to send something off to a publisher or agent that isn’t as close to perfect as you can make it.

Submitting to publishers is a whole other topic, but just let me say this: follow each agent’s or publisher’s guidelines exactly. They receive so many submissions they’re looking for a reason for rejection.

Never give up. With my first book I received nearly 30 rejections before it was accepted. I did a lot of rewriting in-between those rejections. I’ve had plenty of rejections since, but I never gave up. Rejections are part of being a writer. Sometimes you can learn from the rejection.

Write, write, write.

About Angel Lost: As plans for her perfect wedding fill her mind, Officer Stacey Wilbur is sent out to trap a flasher, the new hire realizes Rocky Bluff P.D. is not the answer to his problems, Abel Navarro’s can’t concentrate on the job because of worry about his mother, Officer Gordon Butler has his usual upsets, the sudden appearance of an angel in the window of a furniture store captures everyone’s imagination and causes problems for RBPD, and then the worst possible happens—will Stacey and Doug’s wedding take place?

Marilyn's website:


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What are you reading…

...on? It’s become the question of the new century. No longer are we reading only hard cover or paperback….now we can read also on our smartphones, computers, laptops, MP3 players, tablets and dedicated ereaders. Each has its benefits and drawbacks.

Some people still prefer the feel of a book in their hands. A friend was telling me the other day she loves the bindings, the smell of the paper and ink and it’s part of the comfortable feeling of reading for her. Others find holding a traditional book can become uncomfortable or even painful after a while. But they don’t want to give up the joy of reading.

The various electronic ways of reading have their benefits and drawbacks as well. A desktop keeps you sitting in your office chair. A laptop is more portable, but still heavy compared to an ereader. A tablet like an iPad or Playbook is very light and easy to hold, but more the size of a hardcover book. An MP3 player, iPod Touch or smartphone is super-portable, but some find the screen small for reading. All these devices have a lot of glare on their screens if you want to sit outside on a nice day to read.

The new eInk readers like the Kindle, Nook, Kobo and Sony Reader are light, portable, easy to tuck in a purse or commuter bag. They have dedicated bookstores and it’s quick and straightforward to download a new book. However, they’re not backlit, so low light presents a problem. However, there are lots of clip-on lights to get around that. Some people don’t want to have to buy another device to cart with them and there isn’t one yet under $100, so they’re not for everyone either.

Bottom line – find the device that works best for you and whether it’s traditional or the newest thing, keep on reading!!

Libby McKinmer
Romance with an edge
On Twitter, Facebook & GoodReads too

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Little Suspense?

I’m always fascinated with how other authors add suspense to their work. Ever since I became a full time author in 2002, I’ve made suspense a subject for study. My focus, of course, is on mystery authors but I don’t omit others genres. Suspense is present in every piece of fiction. Anytime you have conflict or a relationship, you have suspense. Will it get resolved, will it have a happy ending?
Suspense is kind of like what the Supreme Court said about pornography – they know it when they see it. When we get to that page with suspense we can’t wait to turn to the nest. We must see what happens. An author once said, “The definition of suspense is time for a commercial.” I wish I could remember who that was, and give him or her a big slap on the back. The phrase says it in a nutshell.
Recently I gave a two-week online class for the Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal group of the Romance Writers of America. Sometimes suspense was equated with action. Wrong, but easy to do. I did exactly the same thing when I first began to write. Fortunately a great writer, William Kent Krueger, pointed out my mistake at the first writer’s conference I ever attended, and the light bulb popped on. I was lucky to get that perspective early on.
Here’s a summary of one of my sessions:

Notes on Suspense
Not professing to know everything there is to know about suspense, here are some tips and tricks I’ve gleaned, stolen, borrowed, and heard. I’m still learning, and adhere to the cliché that the more I know, the more I don’t know. If there were a mathematical formula, or we could wave a magic wand and poof – we’d know how to do it- wouldn’t it be wonderful? But in reality that can’t happen. We are, however, able to learn a few basics, guiding us to a better understanding of what makes up suspense.

1. Time constraints. I liken suspense writing to blowing up a balloon. You realize that too much air will cause the balloon to burst. But how much is too much? You don’t know. The more air you blow, the closer you are. Each breath adds suspense. You see the balloon’s skin getting thinner. It can’t take much more. One more breath – not yet. Bang!
Suspense in a novel is built the same way. How long will it take to save the world? Will the big bang happen before the heroine saves the day? The TV show 24 is a perfect example of suspense. You know the clock is ticking. They show you. And the neat thing for the writers is, they don’t have to introduce the time constraint in every show. It’s built in.

2. Kick it up a notch. Chef Emeril Lagasse loves to add spices. Suspense should be spiced as well. Once you’ve built the plot and developed the time constraints, add pressure. When the odds are insurmountable, make it worse. The protagonist has skills and strengths. Stretch them, weaken them. Have that heroine bend, but never break. Feel the sweat on the palms, the catching of her breath, the heat on the forehead, and that’s from the reader. She should be almost shaking, itching to turn the page. You don’t have to have the world coming to an end for good suspense. It’s only necessary that the crisis would be devastating to your heroine. And she must be willing to do anything to keep it from happening. With romance, the imminent loss of a lover or family member qualifies.

3. Create believable and sympathetic characters. The quickest way to stall or destroy the credibility of your novel is to have an unsympathetic heroine. If your reader has not connected with her, you’ve lost the battle. I’ve read stories where I actually started pulling for the bad guy. The protagonist had done something so moronic I felt she deserved to be punished. Your reader has to believe in and care for the heroine. When she is in peril, the reader is in peril right along side. All heroines must have weaknesses that can be exploited. These are overcome, and the protagonist grows from her experiences.

4. Create believable villains. In a suspense novel, the villain is known, unlike in a mystery, where we wonder who the villain is. You need a well-developed bad guy, one the reader dislikes. The days of the Snidely Whiplash types are gone. Villains today are smart and motivated. They are equal in ability to the heroine – a worthy opponent. Many times they are stronger, but still can be defeated by tenacity and guile. Fully develop the villain. Let the reader know why he is causing mayhem. Maybe something in his childhood, a perceived wrong done to him. The reader must fear him, just as the heroine does. By the way, villains and protagonists can be of either sex. It’s a good idea to play against stereotypes.

5. Complications. Throw in problems. Just when it seems a solution is near, give ‘em the monkey wrench. Remember James Bond. He is always getting caught at the wrong time. If he doesn’t get loose, Spectre wins, and he dies. A huge asteroid hurtles toward Earth with disastrous consequences. Our hero has developed a missile that will break up the asteroid. It’s fired, and success, the asteroid is broken up. Whoops, now it appears that instead of one asteroid coming there are three, which will create more devastation. Now what? The reader is slammed back into a terrible predicament. It’s been said that suspense is filled with peaks and valleys, and each peak is a bit higher than the last, each valley is a bit deeper. Absolutely.

6. What’s next? Plans often go astray. We can’t imagine what could go wrong, but something does. Just by our heroine’s presence, the bad guy’s plans are disrupted. He’s going to need to come up with a new plan and eliminate the obstacle – the heroine. The disturbance of a plan doesn’t always have to be by the protagonist. Outside circumstances can be the culprit. Acquaintances, the mailman, Mother Nature, a parade - all can be distractions, causing the bad guy headaches. Unpredictability can be a key element, and it can disrupt either the bad guy or our heroine. I’ve often put my main character in a desperate situation, exchanged that situation for a more desperate one, and wondered how the hell am I going to get him out. It’s the old murder in a locked room scene where the only visible evidence is the corpse. Be inventive and throw ‘em a curve.

7. Point of view. In suspense, the reader can see ahead, whereas the heroine might not. In fact, the reader often gets to peek inside the mind of the villain. The plan is laid out and plain to see. Our heroine goes blindly forward while the reader squirms, yelling in her mind for the heroine not to go into that room. The trouble is coming, and the reader is aware the bad guy and the heroine are going to meet with much peril for our protagonist. The longer you build tension and delay the anticipated meeting, the more suspense you create. Hold off the confrontation. Add some complications. This is where it gets fun for the author. Creating mayhem.

8. Values. Our heroine has a set of values that she will not compromise. But what if there is no other choice? What if she must sacrifice someone to save her child? Or sacrifice a loved one to save the world? Difficult choices heighten suspense. The antagonist will cross the line, fully aware of his actions. Not so with our heroine. Questions arise which must be answered before she can act. How can she knowingly allow someone to perish? Would she even hesitate if the bad guy were in peril? Would she think about saving him? In that split second, the villain could turn the tables, putting her into danger.

This is in no way a complete list, merely my observations and what I’ve learned so far. I still examine how other authors develop suspense. I marvel when I see different ways to accomplish the desired result. And I can’t wait to try out my take on how it could be done. We need to keep blowing into that balloon. Building the pressure slowly, steadily.

I love to give short or long session classes to let others in on the secret. Not how to do it, but what it is so they can add suspense themselves. Not that I’m an expert, but I have documented how to recognize suspense.
My main recommendation to all who listen is to read the masters and watch how they do it. The Stephen King’s of this consortium of purveyors of fiction. Learn their techniques and adapt it to your style. Take notes as you read. Watch where your blood pressure rises, and the hair on the back of your neck bristles. What did he or she do to make that occur? And, as with everything in life, it takes practice.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


by Earl Staggs

About a month ago, I decided to join all those people getting rich by selling books in the exciting new world of digital publishing. It’s easy, they said. Upload your books so the millions who have bought Kindles, Nooks, and other electronic readers can buy it. You’ll be rich and famous in no time.

Instead of a novel, I decided to set the ebook world on fire with a collection of my published short stories. I’ve been writing short stories for a number of years, and it’s sad to think of them as retired and gathering dust.

So I jumped in. Easy? Not for tech dummies like me. What do I know about HTML? What’s a pixel? I had to learn a whole new language and do things on my computer I had no clue about. All these years, I resisted learning them. I learned how to write in Word, I learned how to do Email, and that was about it.

But I persevered and struggled to learn new things one excruciating step at a time. Did I mention it took me nearly a month? Easy? Right.

Halfway through the project, my wife stuck her head in the door and asked, “How’s it going?”

“Terrible!” I cried in anguish. “I can’t stand it. I’m going to kill myself.”

She sighed. “Again? Well, make it snappy. Dinner’ll be ready in half an hour.”

Somehow I managed to get through it and my collection, imaginatively titled, SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS, is now up and available on Amazon for Kindles and on Smashwords for all other ereaders.

I’ve even had a few sales. Not the thousands of sales that will be coming in soon, but it’s a start. The rich and famous part won’t begin until I do a lot of promotion and advertising to let the world know it’s available.

But first, I’m going to set up a print version. That way, I can advertise that it’s available both ways. Millions of ereaders have been sold, but there are still plenty of people who don’t have one. I don’t want to leave them out.

That means jumping into the fray again, learning more new stuff, and probably reaching the brink of self destruction again.

Hopefully, I can get through it and then relax and let the rich and famous part happen.

It’s easy, they said.


Earl Staggs

SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS now available for $2.99 on Amazon for Kindle and on Smashwords for other ereaders.

Here’s a free one – Read "The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer," a short story good for a few laughs at

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Logan & Cafferty Character Interview

Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty are two feisty 60-year-old amateur sleuths traveling Northern Arizona in their motorhome when they discover the body of a young woman in her Mercedes convertible. I decided to interview Sarah after they had helped to bring down a gang of homegrown terrorists:

Author: Why is it that you and Dana are always stumbling over bodies?

Sarah: They don’t call us murder magnets for nothing.

Author: It’s a pretty gruesome hobby, don’t you think?

Sarah: And expensive. Dana wrecked two motorhomes and two Hummers since the series started.

Author: Why two Hummers?

Sarah: You should know. You wrote the plot.

Author: I don’t plan plots in advance. I just sit down and type as fast as I can to keep up with you two. And you get into some of the darndest situations.

Sarah: I was sound asleep when Dana stopped the motorhome along 1-40 in northern Arizona when that Mercedes convertible went off the road. I didn’t tell her to stop.

Author: I know, but you stayed in the RV when the trucker, Big Ruby” McCurdy stopped to help. Why didn’t you accompany them to investigate?

Sarah: It was pouring down rain.

Author: You’re not the wicked witch of the West. You wouldn’t have melted.

Sarah: Somebody had to stay in the coach when the killer shot out the tires.

Author: Why?

Sarah: So I could report what he looks like. You’re a mystery writer. You should know that.

Author: You’re getting awfully snippy in your old age, Sarah.

Sarah: Looks who’s talking. You’re not exactly a spring chicken yourself.

Author: I think I’d rather speak to your friend Dana.

Sarah: She’s recuperating from that whiplash she suffered when the killer’s truck hit the back of our Escalade. She’s not too happy with you right now.

Author: All in a day’s work. The Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series would be awfully boring if I allowed you two widows to sit around knitting.

Sarah: What have you got planned for us in your next murder mystery? A ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel?

(Murder on the Interstate is available at, Barnes and Noble and other online outlets.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Write What You Don't Know

Everyone has heard the advice given to new writers: "Write what you know."

This might be one of the big lies of writing. Ken Kesey said "Don't write what you know. What you know is boring. Write what you don't know."We need to write about what excites us and what excites us is what's new, the unknown. We want to get out of our comfort zone and explore new territory.Writing is exploring. When we write, we learn new things about characters and what moves them. That's why we write, at least it is for me. Hemingway said that knowledge is found at the point of a pencil, Writing is exploring.

Even writers of history are looking for a new angle on that history. The best histories don't follow well-traveled paths, but step off those paths in search of something new.

I made this point about writing what you don't know in a radio interview i gave on Sunday. You can listen to the interview on my Hawaiian-eye blog. The interviewer asked why my main character in most of my stories is a woman and how I approached that. I explained that I can't be lazy when I write from a woman's POV. I admit that I do have a tendency toward laziness in my writing, especially when I write what I know or when I create a character who resembles me or people I know. Creating characters who are not like me forces me to call on my imagination and explore what I don't know. When I write what I know, the result is flat and boring.

Recently a friend showed me a story she'd written. This person is an excellent writer, but this particular story was not. The story was about some people we both know. Their names were thinly disguised, but the places and most of the incidents in the story were real. Therein lies the problem. The characters in the were flat and uninteresting because my friend had confined herself to only visible, surface features and had not gone into their complexities. She had not delved into the unknown.

How often have you heard that a character was taken from real life, that they "really did that," or they "really talk that way" only to find the character was flat and boring? It's not that real life and real people aren't boring, but that to make them come alive on the page we need to get deep into them and explore what we don't know.

So writers, "Write what you don't know."

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The E-Book Phenomena

Years ago I'd give talks about e-publishing and only a few people really were interested.

I'd also speak up at conferences and mention e-books were definitely in our future. I was poo-poohed, sometimes insulted, and heard things like "but I want to smell the paper and be able to turn the pages." (And I still hear that at times.)

One fellow author got down right angry with me and told me I ought to keep my mouth shut because nothing like that was ever going to take off. I haven't as yet checked to see if her books are on Kindle, but I bet they are.

At this time I already had several books published electronically. At first, of course, the computer was the only way they could be read. Then came the Rocket ebook, which was easy to use, easy to download books to, and great to read on. The back lighting made it easy to read in bed and if you fell asleep it turned off automatically. Sony came along and bought them out and it was years before they came out with their own e-reader which wasn't nearly as good or easy to use as the old Rocket.

By this time of course, everyone was talking about e-books, then along came the Kindle and opinions began to change. Oh, I've still heard people talk about the smell of a book--but frankly, I don't care what a book smells like.  I do still read the kind of books where you turn the pages the old-fashioned way, in fact I have quite a TBR pile--and not in just one place. I also have a TBR list on my Kindle. I've read lots of books on Kindle and love to read that way. Because I haven't paid a whole lot for any of the books on Kindle, if I don't like a book I don't feel the least bit bad about not finishing ti.

What I like best about the Kindle is I can take enough books on a trip without weighing down my suitcase. What I don't like about it is it's not back lit, so you do need enough light to read on a plane or in bed.

And, yes, most of my books are on Kindle and the Nook. Earlier books in my Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series (written as F.M.Meredith) that are no longer in print can be found on Kindle.

Final Respects is the first one in the series.

I loved writing this book and at the time had no idea this would end up a series. If you're one of those people who likes to start at the beginning of a series, you  might try this one.

And to wrap this up, I'd like to run into all those folks who gave me such a hard time years ago and say, "I told you so" or even more satisfying, "Nyay, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah."


Monday, May 16, 2011

Sidney Sheldon by Morgan Mandel

  On the way  home from Wisconsin, instead of reading my Kindle, which I've been doing lately, I pulled out a hardcover I'd purchased a while back, called After the Darkness, by Sidney Sheldon and Tilly Bagshawe.

I enjoyed the larger than life characters and the plot's twists. Sidney Sheldon was one of my favorite authors and I'm sad I won't be able to read any new books by him.

Over ten years ago, when I wrote feature stories for the Daily Herald, I interviewed Sidney at a local Barnes and Noble book signing upon the release of  his mystery, The Sky is Falling.

You would never guess he was a star in his own right, not only the sixth best selling writer of all time, but also the creator, producer and writer of The Patty Duke Show and I Dream of Jeannie, after writing for Broadway.  He was very gracious. When we spoke of his writing methods he mentioned he liked to dictate the words to his assistant, then would read it all back. It worked for him, but I'd have trouble keeping track that way.

I'm so grateful for my computer. I would hate to write my manuscripts in longhand, much less use a typewriter and have to try and get it all perfect.

What method do you use for writing?  Or, maybe you'd like to share a meeting with a famous author you've met.

Morgan Mandel

Killer Career now 99 cents on Kindle and Smashwords.

Monday, May 9, 2011

New Guy on the Blog by J.D.Webb

There’s a new guy on the Make Mine Mystery blog. Wonder who he is? Wonder what he’ll say? J. D. Webb reporting for duty, mystery solved as they say. I’m honored to be a member of such a distinguished panel. I admire and respect each author. And I’m not just buttering up the gang, I really mean it.

Now what to talk about. The subject is mystery, and I wanted to clue you in (okay that wasn’t fair) to a book I just finished rereading - Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout. One of the things I always tell new authors is to read and learn from the masters. This book would be a good start. Stout was a pioneer of detective noir, and Fer-de-Lance was his first success. His novels still stand the test of time. Once you get past the antique cars and rotary dial phones, his stories are infused with quirky and fun characters that entertain and keep you guessing. The brilliance of Nero Wolf and his caustic sidekick, Archie Goodwin, make a dynamic a team.

When I first dreamed about being an author, Rex Stout’s books convinced me to choose mystery writing. I voraciously read others as well: Spillane, Parker, MacDonald, Prather, Block… well, the list is endless. I also read the newer faces of mystery. In effect, I’m still learning. I admit I steal from them all. Not their words, but their techniques, descriptive artistry, character trait detailing, and plot development. I’ve been known to say the author’s journey is filled with plot holes.

My ultimate classroom experience is to read one of the masters and take notes. Much more fun than during my school years and. I never have to force myself to read.

So I encourage you to read one of Rex Stout’s books. They can be found in most bookstores, especially the independents, many of them specialize in the mystery genre. Your local library may have one or two still on the shelves. And according to my favorite people – librarians - mysteries are still one of their most popular circulations. Music to a mystery author’s ears.

I will mention this new guy, J. D. Webb, has a recent release called Smudge. The cover appears somewhere on this blog. It’s a Kindle offering and also available in print at Amazon, L& and other fine sources. Till next time, keep reading.

J D Webb

Sunday, May 8, 2011


By Earl Staggs

I haven’t written a word for three weeks. And it’s painful.

When you’ve been writing fiction as long as I have, it becomes normal to create something new on a regular basis. There are so many story ideas floating around between the ears, there’s an irresistible urge – make that a need – to crank them out and see how they fly.

But for the past three weeks, all my available time has been spent wedging my way into the ebook evolution. With traditional publishing on its way to who-knows-where, I feel every writer should explore digital self-publishing. With what has happened Kindle-wise, Nook-wise and otherwise with incredible speed over the last two, three years, it’s like the world is passing you by. I’m tired of reading all the success stories of authors who have digitally published their work and are selling them with ease.

Well, not exactly with ease. I’m also reading about how much time and work are required to let the new world of readers know you’re out there. It’s not as if all you have to do is publish an ebook and the world will beat a path to your door.

But that’s the next stage. The initial stage is to format and publish something in digital media, and that’s what has devoured all my time and energy for the past three weeks.

I decided to enter the new world with a collection of some of my published short mystery stories. It wasn’t hard to find instructions on how to publish via Kindle and Smashwords. Amazon’s Kindle, of course, is the Godzilla in the field, selling more than ninety percent of ebooks worldwide. Smashwords sets up your book for ebook readers other than Kindle. Smashwords advertises it also puts you on Amazon for Kindle owners, but that’s not true at the present time.

So I dug in. Getting a manuscript ready for digital publishing is probably easy for those well-versed in computer lingo. I’m not one of those. I felt as if I’d moved to an alien planet where they speak a strange language. It was a step-by-frustrating-step process for me.

But I hung in somehow, and I’m happy to say my collection, cleverly titled, SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS, is now live on Kindle and Smashwords.

My next project will be to tackle CreateSpace, which will make my collection also available as a print book for those who do not have an ereader. I have no idea how difficult that will be or how long it will take, but I’m going for it.

My biggest hope is that all those story ideas screaming to be written will be patient and not fade away. I want to get back to writing. I miss it. A lot.

Earl Staggs

"The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer," a short story good for a few laughs at

Friday, May 6, 2011

Music City Honor Flight

By Chester Campbell

I'm heading for Washington next Wednesday, but President Obama needn't worry. I'll only be there for the day. I'll be traveling with 100 other old guys who are part of what Tom Brokaw called The Greatest Generation. They're World War II veterans who are being flown to the capital for a day of sightseeing at the World War II Memorial and several other military memorials.

We're traveling with the Honor Flight Network, a program that has been going on for several years now. Flights are organized in cities around the country, funded by private donations. This will be the second one from Nashville and will fly on a chartered U.S. Airways plane.

In addition to the vets, there will be a "guardian escortT" to assist every three veterans, plus two nurses and a physician. We'll be well taken care of.

On arrival at Reagan National Airport, we'll board three buses for transportation about the capital. Besides the World War II Memorial, we'll tour the Vietnam, Korean and Lincoln Memorials. We'll have our pictures taken at the Air Force Memorial and view the Navy and Marine Memorials from the bus. The tour will end with Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The first Honor Flight took place in 2005 when six small planes flew a dozen World War II veterans to Washington from Springfield, Ohio. Since then it has expanded to seventy hubs in thirty states. Of the more than sixteen million men and women who served in World War II, less than two million survive and they're dying at the rate of some 1,000 a day.

We met for a pre-flight briefing last Saturday, and most of the guys seemed to be in pretty good shape. Several needed wheelchairs, and others walked with canes. I heard plenty of talk between those who served in the same or similar outfits. I'm looking forward to the flight and the memorials we'll see.

Visit me at Mystery Mania

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Backyard American Tragedy

Our backyard is something of a wild place. Mostly trees and shrubs, not much grass to speak of. We try to make it a welcoming place for birds. We're not avid birdwatchers, but we do enjoy their songs and activity. We have bird feeders, bird houses and a bird bath within sight of our deck and family room.

We have a fountain on the deck. It's a tall, cylindrical pot which fills with water that spills over the top and splashes down the sides. The birds love it. They are probably attracted to the moving water. More of them visit the fountain than the birdbath.

This spring the backyard has been active. We have cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, titmice, sparrows, doves, woodpeckers, and mockingbirds. A family of sparrows took over the birdhouse closest to the deck. All spring we've been able to watch the activity around it. First the adults flocked to it with nesting material. Then they took up residence. It was obvious they were incubating eggs. Sure enough, a few weeks ago we saw the chicks inside. Now it was active and noisy. The adults made constant forays for food and all the while the babies remained inside, open-beaked and crying. We didn't approach too closely, but from the deck we could see them growing. Soon they would leave the nest.

One evening last week I came home from work and the sparrow's house was empty and silent. When I reached the deck, I saw two birds in the fountain. It was a juvenile sparrow and an adult sparrow floating lifeless on top.

It's easy to figure out what happened. The juvenile left the nest, trying its new wings, exploring its environment. It was probably attracted to the fountain like the other birds, but being inexperienced with water, fell in. The adult, I'm assuming it was the mother, went to the juvenile's aid and drowned. Their posture in death, beak to beak, indicates her desperate attempts to same him.

When I was in college studying psychology, we were cautioned against anthropomorphizing animal behavior. It was unscientific to attribute human motives and emotions to animals. An explanation for the mother's behavior might be that she was merely trying to preserve the survival of her genes. I don't buy that. I think this was an example of maternal love. This mother sacrificed herself to save the offspring she had delivered and nurtured. Sadly, it ended in tragedy.

This story could be fiction, but it's not. It could be a human story. but it's not.  It's a story about an object of beauty that disguises deadly features. It's about the natural curiosity of a youngster that can be dangerous. It's about a strong universal bond between two individuals that drives one to sacrifice his/her life to save the other.

Our backyard is still filled with birds, but the sparrow's house is silent and empty.

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Different Opinons About Water for Elephants

Recently I went to see the movie Water for Elephants after having read the book twice. I liked the book, not a mystery, but only read it twice because I'd forgotten I'd read it already and ordered it on my Kindle. It took me a while to realize I'd read it before and couldn't remember how it ended.

When I began seeing trailers for the movie I knew I wanted to see it for a couple of reasons, I liked the stars they'd chosen for the parts and it was filmed in a little town called Fillmore in California that I know very well. One reason it was chosen is because it has several old and still working trains and the downtown still looks much as it did during the '30s, the time period of the movie.

I thought the movie was good, certainly depicted the time period and life in a not-so-wonderful circus. A few things were changed and I actually thought for the better.

When I posted my thoughts on Facebook, on of my "friends" said that the makers of Titanic should sue them for stealing their plot. I truly scratched my head at that comment, later realizing that both stories are told from the POV of an elderly person retelling their story. Yes, there is an abusive relationship and the younger lover, but they aren't really anything alike, nor is the ending the same.

However, listening to a TV reviewer also say that he loved the movie and it reminded him of the Titanic, I had to think about it a little more.

First off, there are only so many plots and they've all been used over and over. Goodness, know we certainly reuse plots in mysteries, hopefully with refreshing twists and different characterizations. I thought the actors did a terrific job playing believable characters. What happened with the circus is a compilation of many circuses druing that time period. The author did the research well.

Another Facebook friend didn't like the fact that the hero (a veterinarian student who didn't finish) didn't stand up for the animals. I think the hero was naive and definitely a "fish out of water" who really didn't know what to do. The movie is more satisfying in this area.

In the particular showing I was in the audience clapped at the end. On our way out, we passed a group of older women who'd come together and were discussing the differences between the book and the movie and seemed quite happy with the changes.

If you've read the book and/or seen the movie what did you think? It's also a good lesson in the fact that when someone reads one of our books he or she might not have the same opinion as many others do.


Monday, May 2, 2011

New Blogger Gadget - Follow by Email - Pros and Cons

I recently noticed a new Blogger Gadget was added to their vast repertoire. This Gadget makes it simple for readers to follow blogposts by email. Immediately after seeing the Gadget, I added it here. I't easy to do by going to Dashboard, Design, and look on the layout where it says Add a Gadget, then click. It was first on the list of Gadgets. You'll see the results here in our righthand column. Once I did that, I decided to subscribe to our blog. For one thing, getting an email of my own or a fellow member's post lets me know it actually went live when it was supposed to. Sometimes they don't.

The funny thing is yesterday I was going through my emails and saw one with the sender, MAKE MINE MYSTERY, and the subject line the same. That confused me for a second, until I remembered about the email feature.

Anyway, I clicked on the email and there was Sunday's post in its entirety, complete with illustrations. Seemed like a great advantage, easier than typing in the blog url and waiting for it to come up.

Now, for the drawback. Unless the email reader realizes it's possible to click on the header or the small url at the bottom of the page after the actual post to get to the blog itself, that subscriber has no means of making a comment. Such a small difference, but to a blogger it's huge.

If you blog, you live for comments!

I'm hoping Blogger perfects this feature in the future, at least by making some reference to how to comment. It's still a great Gadget as is now, since it makes it more convenient for readers to see blog posts. And, there are many readers who don't comment anyway, so for them it's a great timesaver the way it is.

Anyway, now that you know how it works, you can subscribe to the emails and click one of those spots and still comment. Hope you do.

Anyone want to make a comment about the email Gadget, good or bad? I'd love to hear from you.

Morgan Mandel

Killer Career is 99 cents on
Kindle and Smashwords

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Day

May Day. Two simple words with multiple meanings. This year, May Day, or May 1st, falls on a Sunday, which is traditionally a day of rest. However, many countries will honor this Sunday with May Day demonstrations that celebrate its heritage of unrest. Of course, that doesn’t preclude people in other countries from dancing around Maypoles celebrating May Day as the official advent of spring. If you plan on writing about May Day, it behooves you to consider all of its meanings.

Since 1856, May 1st has been recognized as a day to honor labor’s struggle in establishing an eight hour work day. May 1st also commemorates the 1886 Haymarket Affair, in which during a three-day general strike in Chicago, Illinois, common laborers, artisans, merchants, and immigrants gathered in front of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company plant. During this strike, police opened fire and killed four protestors. On the following day, an angry crowd rallied at Haymarket Square, and when things got ugly, the police moved in and opened fire on the unarmed crowd under the guise than an unknown assailant tossed a bomb at the police. By the time the bloody riot ended, at least a dozen people were dead, including one policeman. Following a sensationalized trial for the eight defendants, four anarchists were hanged. International outrage and the memory of the Haymarket martyrs led to May Day being commemorated as International Worker’s Day or Loyalty Day.

Today, May 1st is still recognized with various job actions and demonstrations, although in the US, Labor Day isn’t celebrated until the first Monday in September. Why? Because Labor Day didn’t become an official US holiday until six days after a number of workers were killed at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the 1878 Pullman Strike. Placing reconciliation with the labor movement as his top political priority, President Grover Cleveland pushed a bill through Congress that created Labor Day as a national holiday. Cleveland selected the flexible September date rather than using the more widespread International Workers' Day because he was concerned that observing the latter would stir negative emotions linked to the deadly Haymarket Affair and Pullman Strike.

Socialist countries use May 1st to televise massive propaganda displays demonstrating their military might and worker solidarity. Although designed to be intimidating, these May Day celebrations are in effect a type of political protest, not unlike some of the international labor demonstrations.

Celtic and Germanic festivals celebrate May Day as the official end of the unfarmable winter in the Northern hemisphere. Budding flowers and leaves provide ample reason for raucous celebrations before the hard work of farming the fields begins. With the seeding already done, laborers often get May 1st off, allowing revelers to dance around Maypoles with colorful ribbons.

May Day has another meaning, though. When the two words are combined, you get “Mayday”; the international distress call broadcast by ship or aircraft crewmembers in imminent danger. Stemming from the French word “m’aider”, meaning “come help me”, adrenaline shoots through the veins of anyone hearing Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! on the radio.

In tactical airplanes, a Mayday call usually precedes the pilot bailing out, and that’s what I’m doing here. An upcoming move to Texas and writing deadlines preclude me from continuing writing for Make Mine Mystery. It has been a pleasure contributing to this blog and I hope it continues its reputation for excellence. I wish all of you the best in your writing endeavors. Come visit me at or Muderous Musings.